The Internet of Things (IoT) combined with rapid advancements in technology driving both software and hardware innovations has changed the way we all do things. One such technology advancement that is flying to new heights is the use of drones.
Drone technology promises the potential of big rewards and significant cost savings. Farsight takes a look at the rapidly growing drone sector, its benefits, uses and advancements, but conversely – some major concerns around drone security too…
What is a drone or UAV?
A Drone – also known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPA) or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is a remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or small flying device.
When talking about drones, most people think of their uses as being by mainly hobbyists, photographers and thrill seekers, but that is not the case – the industry is bigger than that, much bigger. In fact, the drone industry is an emerging market worth over £102 billion globally.
In the UK in 2019 there were 81,651 registered flyers/operators of drones. According to CAA regulations, drones or model aircraft under 250g with no cameras do not need to be registered, but drones above that require and flyer and operator ID. A test must be taken to achieve a flyer ID and the operator ID must be labelled on the drone device.
When talking about drones, most people relate their uses as being by mainly hobbyists, photographers and thrill seekers, but the industry is bigger than that, much bigger. Currently, the drone industry is an emerging market worth over £102 billion globally.
What is the drone industry worth in the UK?
The drone industry in the UK is growing significantly in adoption and investment by commercial and public sectors organisations. As part of its drone strategy report in 2019, the UK Government believes that the commercial & public services sectors will take this growth much further.
” The use of unmanned aircraft has grown significantly in recent years and the industry is expected to contribute an extra £42 billion to the UK economy by 2030, with more than 76,000 commercial and public sector drones expected to be in use by this date.”
Within the same report, Transport Minister Baroness Vere said:
“Unmanned aircraft, including drones, could transform how we move people and goods, boost our economy and even save lives.”
Indeed, it may sound futuristic, but drones are already being used in both the public and commercial sectors, let’s look at to what extent…
How are drones being used in the public sector?
In their article entitled ‘The view from above: drones and public services,’ GovernmentBusiness.co.uk report that there are numerous ways in which drones can be used in the public services sector. These include:
- Police and fire-fighting
- Disaster response
- Environmental protection & monitoring
- Infrastructure inspection
…to name a few.
The three main benefits for using drones in the public services sector are cited as: drones are safer, faster and cheaper. The above article outlines several examples supporting the benefits which include a saving of £750,000 in 2018 by Severn Trent Water by using drones to check optimisation of treatment processes, thermal imaging of pipes to detect leakage and creating 3D models of assets.
Adoption of drone technology across emergency services in the UK is already happening too, with 40 of the 43 national police forces now operating 288 drones.
Since the West Midlands Fire Service became the first fire brigade in the UK to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in 2007, a raft of UK fire services no also run drone pilot schemes or have have embedded UAVs into their operational infrastructure.
For Fire Services across the UK, drones offer numerous safety and performance benefits, helping to keep people safer, improve the robustness of planning and tactical decisions and make it possible to improve performance, results and resource management.
According to UK Fire, emergency service provider use of drones can deliver many benefits including:
Thermal imaging – with a thermal camera fitted to a drone, it is possible to cover wide areas in search of missing people, assist in police pursuits, can be used in stealth operations such as identifying cannabis farms without the noise of overhead helicopters and can capture live images that can be used in investigations and prosecutions.
Increased capacity for multi-agency working – data from drones such as mapping and a real time incident overviews can be shared with operational teams on site to support tactical decisions based on the latest on-site information whilst providing a shared situational awareness for all partners to work together efficiently.
More accurate risk assessments – using drones can deliver improved accessibility to an incident, being able to gather crucial fact finding data across multiple terrains and across wide distances. This information can give a high level picture of what is going on on the ground so that operation command can make operational deployment decisions based on a more complete picture – reducing risks and saving lives.
More Flexible Accessibility – drones can be particularly effective for gathering real-time data about evolving, remote or hard-to-reach emergency situations, such as in high-risk incidents with a potentially lethal hazards for example.
The adoption of drone technology took a huge leap forward during the Covid-19 pandemic being used to deliver medical kits for the NHS, spurring a £28 Million trail scheme to get medical supplies to hospitals involving flights to hospitals in Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth.
The first successful UAV drone flight via an air corridor between Cornwall and Isles of Scilly by Windracers allowed the delivery of a 50kg payload of medical supplies during the pandemic. Further funding of £100,000 from AeroSpace Cornwall has enabled the development of an Ultra drone to further this capacity to 100kg which is set to accelerate the use of drone technology to deliver humanitarian aid across the globe.
It seems that drone technology is set to grow in its uses and adoption across public sector services in the UK, but what are the benefits to the commercial sector?
How are drones being used in the commercial sector?
In 2019 the UK Government put the figure at 5,000 drones registered for use in the commercial sector and were quoted as outlining that, “Like many emerging technologies, drones play an ever more important role in business.”
Global estimates paint a similar picture of the massive growth in the commercial drone market – forecasted at reaching USD 501.4 billion by 2028 with growth of CAGR 57.5% from 2021. So who is using drones in the commercial sector now?
Commercial drones are being used across various industries to help companies save money, improve safety, and enhance the efficiency of their operations. Flyability cite the industries where drones are most commonly used as:
- Utilities & Power Generation, e.g. power grid maintenance of overhead electricity lines
- Oil & Gas
- Sewer Maintenance
- Public Safety
- Film Making & Photography
Camera drones present a powerful tool for collecting data. For example in survey and inspection scenarios using a drone to collect data instead of a person can make a big impact on safety since it reduces the exposure of personnel to potentially dangerous scenarios, such as climbing a cell tower or walking along scaffolding inside a giant tank to collect visual data.
There is range of types of data that commercial drones can capture from visual, thermal, LIDAR to both multi and hyperspectral data used extensively in agriculture and conservation management to monitor the health of trees and crops for example.
An emerging area for commercial drone use is to enable unmanned deliveries too. In August 2021 Google’s drone delivery service completed 100,000 deliveries, a service that grew by 500% last year. Just one of its delivery operations in Queensland, Australia is the largest residential drone delivery service in the world according to an article published by Forbes.
Closer to home in Ireland, a company called Manna is currently delivering everything from food and drink to medical supplies for a range of retailers that can be purchased via their own app. Reportedly, they are delivering with a whopping 2,000 to 3,000 flights a day using autonomous drones that fly at 50 miles an hour at an altitude of 150-200 feet. Once near the delivery point, the drones scan the area with LIDAR and radar to find a safe drop off point to descend and drop off deliveries.
Drone deliveries in the UK seem way off at the moment say the Week – as currently, drones are banned from flying beyond the line of sight of their pilots “under almost all circumstances”. This has caused difficulties in rolling out this technology “at scale” for logistical tasks such as inspecting infrastructure or flying deliveries in urban areas.
However, the Civil Aviation Authority has allowed a Sussex- based company to begin operating regular flights between three nominated sites without prior authorisation.
Whilst there are several key hurdles to overcome still, it is only a matter of time before drone use for the commercial sector takes off at scale!
How are drones being used with criminal or disruptive intent?
As a leading remote monitoring central station, Farsight receive countless calls requesting extra vigilance from concerned clients after noticing unusual activities in the skies above their businesses and fear that drones are being used to case their valuables, machinery, entry points and the rest. Of course, drone security risks are a worry for many, not just our clients.
We are all aware of the closure of Gatwick Airport in 2018 due to a drone being sighted in the airport’s vicinity. more than 140,000 people at London Gatwick had their travel plans disrupted after drones were spotted above the airport. This is not the only time a suspected drone sighting has shut down a major UK airport though.
Nationally, the news media is bursting with articles expressing concerns about drone security risks where this technology is being used with criminal intentions, including burglary, theft and disruption. Like these news strories :
> Warning Issued as thieves use drones to stake out farms in North Wales – reported by Deeside.com, 2021
> Bolton garden thieves using drones to target high value items – The Bolton News, 2021
> Thieves using drones to scope farms, police warn – Farmers Weekly, February 2021
> Thieves snoop on us with drones say Farmers – The Times, 2021
> Police warn of distraction burglaries and thefts in Kent involving the potential use of drones – Kent Online, August 2020
> Fears that drones being used by local thieves over homes – My Welsh Pool, 2020
The need for improvements to counter drone security risks
Drones being used for ‘ill intentions’ have been linked to all sorts of incidents such as scouting for valuables in gardens, spying on pin numbers at ATMs and even smuggling drugs and phones into prisons. These instances are increasing in their frequency and whilst drone technology has many benefits, it still brings with it major concerns from all quarters about drone security.
In the hands of thieves, criminals gangs, hackers and even terrorists, drone technology can deliver the ability to remotely disrupt and spy on otherwise inaccessible locations, including airports, restricted airspace, data centres, construction sites, commercial premises and even rural farms.
This fact is not lost on the UK Government who’s new counter drone strategy 2019 – Action to detect, deter and disrupt the misuse of drones – aims to ‘harness the benefits of the technology to society and the economy by protecting the public from malicious or criminal drone use’.
It includes plans to drive forward the establishment of international design standards for manufacturers to enable safety features to be designed in from the start and make drones safe to use in the UK as well as the creation of a new mobile counter-drone unit containing detection and disruption equipment which can be deployed by police and emergency responders.
It all sounds good, but these did not prevent the drone related incidents listed above from happening and countless others. The major concern for many businesses is that most modern perimeter security measures set up to defend against physical attacks on the ground or cyber attacks could be completely bypassed with a drone in the hands of someone with ill intentions – dropping in from the sky or covertly spying.
Now that the average person has unlimited access to our airspace, another dimension in security defence and remote monitoring has been added. No longer is it enough to protect from horizontal perimeter intrusion, we now must consider vertical intrusion too. In short, the introduction of drones has led to a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way modern Facilities Managers think about perimeter security.
Security industry leaders have been quick to identify the needs in the new reality that drones bring in relation to security system requirements. For example Mike Cosgrave, Divisional Manager of Optex Western Europe comments that: “Drones have changed the market dramatically and drone detection is a big concern for a range of sectors”.
Security World Market brought some of these security leaders’ thoughts together in an article entitled: ‘Drones add a new dimension to perimeter security’. In this article Lucas Le Belle, CEO of Cerbair says:
” All sites need cameras, analytics and access control, but we also need transition from this model to a fully integrated three-dimensional security approach. The near air space can be an easy way to go for terrorists, criminals or people with bad intentions to actually penetrate your site and do the attack. So, the whole anti-drone industry is going to be complementary to the more traditional way of doing things in security.”
Nick D’hoedt, Regional Sales Director of Genetec says:
“Now you have to think about a third dimension – radar technology, laser technology, radio frequency and also drone technology are all combined into one solution and we are bringing all that information back to the operators, who need to take responsibility and decisions within a timeframe of 10 to 20 seconds.”
As drone technology is continually evolving, so too is the technology necessary to counter drone threats to add this third dimension to perimeter security systems. As a leading remote security monitoring station, Farsight is evolving in this space too to keep up with the demands of our clients’ needs. Facilities Managers are already considering the best ways to mitigate potential threats from above with the latest systems that we can remotely monitor, however, it is the smaller businesses that are under threat in the short term, those that cannot afford to install these ‘multi-dimensional’ monitored security systems and tech.
To those businesses, we advise continued vigilance in keeping a check on incidents around their premises that appear suspicious – just as seeing someone suspicious hanging around a business, watching – so too if they notice a drone circling their premises – it could be a potential security risk. In this case, report the drone security risk or sighting to your local police by calling ‘101’and notify your Remote Monitoring Station so they can apply extra vigilance to the site.
Organisations such as Neighbourhood Watch are also good at enabling the sharing of these types of alerts with surrounding business communities. Also, you can read more about CAA’s advice on ‘Reporting misuse of a unmanned aircraft and drones’ by following this Link.
Want to work with a remote monitoring partner to bolster your defences with drone security?
If you are concerned about drone security and are looking to add another dimension to your perimeter security with outsourced ‘cutting edge’ remote monitoring solutions, we’d love to speak further. Call Farsight on 0845 371 0101 or drop us a line below: